Definition of a Native Plant

A native plant is one that lives or grows naturally in a particular region without direct or indirect human intervention. It is a part of the balance of nature that has developed over hundreds of thousands of years in a particular region or ecosystem (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service). Our indigenous insect and animal species have co-evolved with our native plants for mutual benefit.


Why native plants are important and the benefits of using them

The Native Plant Trust states, “All life on earth depends on plants. Native plants are the cornerstone of Earth’s ecosystems and the base of the food chain that leads to our dinner tables. They evolved in and define particular locations, where they provide the habitats—food and shelter—that specific insects, birds, mammals, and other animals need. Together, native plants and animals form a web of mutually beneficial interactions that is greater than the sum of its parts: an ecosystem.”

The American Society of Landscape Architects states the benefits of native plants:

a) Native plants are healthier, stronger, and low maintenance – Plants native to an area are more likely to establish quickly and will naturally be hardy and healthy. Native plants have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to thrive in particular areas—they grow in harmony with the environment, the soil, the water supply, the varying weather throughout all the seasons, and other native companions.

b) Native plants create wildlife habitats – When native plants thrive in their original environment, they create a natural habitat for wildlife that is beneficial to the environment. Besides the obvious pollinators, like bees, birds, and butterflies, native plants can also help create homes for small animals, warm and cold-blooded, and microscopic organisms in the soil. All these living things have jobs to do; the natural environment promotes a symbiotic relationship.

c) Native plants help the environment. Native plants also have other benefits. They require much less watering, fertilizer, and pesticides. In fact, they can prevent water run-off and improve air quality. Native plants used in place of turf grass can help decrease pollution because they eliminate the need for mowers and other equipment. Native plants also have the ability to pull and store excess carbon.

How to Use Native Plants

Groundcover – Native plants grow in clumps in the wild, so can be planted more densely than comparable non-natives. Weeds are crowded out, thus minimizing the need for mulch. The following, along with any native fern, work well under taller perennials, shrubs and trees:

Asarum canadense Wild Ginger

Bouteloua gracilis Blue Grama Grass

Gaultheria procumbens Wintergreen

Geranium maculatum Wild Geranium

Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny Spurge

Sedum ternatum Woodland Stonecrop

Sporobolus heterolepis Prairie Dropseed

Tiarella cordifolia Foamflower

Waldsteinia fragarioides Barren Strawberry


Foundation Plantings – Mix native shrubs with the standards (boxwood, holly, pieris):

Ceonanthus americanus New Jersey Tea

Comptonia peregrina Sweet Fern

Myrica pensylvanica Northern Bayberry

Rosa virginiana Virginia Rose

Spiraea latifolia Meadowsweet

Viburnum acerifolium Mapleleaf Viburnum


Woodland Edge – Native plants are a great way to bridge the [gap] between unstructured wooded areas and a landscaped yard. Consider a border of the following:

Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania Sedge

Diervilla lonicera Northern Bush Honeysuckle

Kalmia latifolia Mountain Laurel

Rhododendron maximum Rosebay Rhododendron

Clethra alnifolia Summersweet

Hamamelis virginiana Common Witch Hazel

Lindera benzoin Spice Bush


Ferns – Native ferns have many uses, as ground cover, with bulbs to hide foliage after blooming, in-between perennials and shrubs. Consider the following for part shade to shady areas:

Athyrium filix-femina Lady Fern

Dennstaedtia punctilobula Hay-scented Fern

Dryopteris marginalis Marginal Wood Fern

Matteuccia struthiopteris Ostrich Fern

Polystichum acrostichoide Christmas Fern

-Elizabeth F.

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